Illini Media calls upon students, alumni for financial support

The Illini Media Company is asking for financial help to keep its operations, including The Daily Illini, WPGU and Buzz, afloat. The company currently owes $250,000 in back payments to The News-Gazette and other vendors and is overdue on mortgage payments.

Unlike most student newspapers and university-affiliated media outlets, the Illini Media Company has been completely financially independent from the University since its inception, just as The Daily Illini has been editorially independent since it first published in 1871. The company is supported through advertising revenue and limited alumni contributions, both of which have recently dwindled.

Its newest effort to sustain the company is the proposal of a $3 nonrefundable fee per semester to University students who are taking at least one hour of classes. To put this proposal on the University’s spring referendum ballot, the company needs to collect 3,333 signatures on a petition before Feb. 21.

Funds obtained through the fee would comprise about 12 percent of the current fiscal year’s operating budget. This fee would fund general operations, so the company could invest in capital improvements for equipment and other areas.

This effort is concurrent with a recently launched fundraising campaign. Former Daily Illini editor-in-chief and Chicago Sun-Times movie critic Roger Ebert recently wrote a letter to thousands of former Illini Media employees that outlined the company’s financial problems and its strategies for eradicating debt.

“After 140 years, it is possible The Daily Illini could cease publication,” Ebert said in his letter. “This would break the hearts of many of us.”

In the letter, Ebert asked his colleagues to consider financial contributions to the company.

Illini Media also has plans to rent space to outside clients in its building at 512 E. Green Street in Champaign. The building, constructed in 2006, is finishing a renovation of its fourth floor in order to rent the space to a University department. Additionally, negotiations are in progress for a tenant for the first floor, which houses the Illini Tech Center and WPGU.

The Illini Media Company celebrated its 100th year in 2011 and comprises multiple student media outlets. Illini Media employs more than 200 students of all majors every year.

Lil Levant, Illini Media’s publisher, has penned a letter that appears on The Daily Illini’s website, asking readers of more than eight stories a month to consider a donation.

The Daily Illini and Illini Media have previously made adjustments to their business model to stay afloat. The 141-year-old student newspaper was reduced to 12 pages in 2009. Additionally, professional staff at the company has been reduced.

The Daily Illini and its affiliates at Illini Media were once home to some of media’s biggest names, including novelist Dave Eggers, publisher Hugh Hefner and award-winning columnist Ebert.

“Many, including myself, would say that they owe their careers at least in part to their experience at Illini Media,” Ebert said in his letter.

_Joe Ward and Hannah Meisel contributed to this report._